Saturday, 26 March 2005

Blinkies

With the new, modified template and the second sidebar you might notice that I have picked up a lot of blinkies. All of them are adopted except for two--The Prisoner ("I am not a number...") and The Avengers blinkie ("Mrs. Peel, we're needed..."). If anyone wants to snag them (including my own), go right ahead.

I only learned about blinkies awhile back. It seems as if they just started popping up on blogs and websites. I suppose that there is a regular blinkie fad taking place. Of course, the internet has seen its share of fads before. I remember that it was not long after I first got connected that everyone had to have web pages with black backgrounds. And, of course, animated gifs (which blinkies are) had their time in the sun. I have to wonder who created the first blinkie. Given the nature of the internet, I suppose no one will ever know. Whoever it was does seem to have started an outright craze.

Anyhow, I obviously like the idea of blinkies. They seem like a handy way of letting people know about one's interests and even one's personality.

Friday, 25 March 2005

A New Look and Paul Henning

Well, any regular readers out there will notice that I have once more changed my layout. This particular template comes from Window of Appearances. I like it because its appearance doesn't change too drastically in different resolutions and it scrolls well. I do have to warn anyone who is interested in using this template that it is literally a bare bones template. You'll have to add your own colours and so on to get it to look the way you want it.

In other news, this week has seen the passing of two major figures in television. The first was a a fellow Missourian and literally a television legend. Paul Henning, creator of The Beverly Hillbillies, died at age 93 after a prolonged illness. Paul Henning was born and raised in Missouri, growing up in Independence. Graduating from the Kansas City School of Law, Henning found himself in radio rather than practising law. He submitted a spec script to Fibber McGee and Molly, leading to a 15 year career with the show. He also wrote for The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, and accompanied Burns and Allen when they moved to television. Paul Henning had a fairly successful career as a writer in television. He wrote for The Dennis Day Show, The Ray Bolger Show, Where's Raymond, and The Real McCoys. His big break came as producer of a series featuring a fellow Missourian, The Bob Cummings Show (Cummings was born in Joplin).

While The Bob Cummings Show was successful, it would be dwarfed by Henning's very own creation, The Beverly Hillbillies. In its very first season, The Beverly Hillbillies became the number one show in television. In fact, some of its episodes still rank in the top 100 highest rated programmes of all time, a remarkable achievement for any show. The Beverly Hllibillies ran nine years, spending most of that time at the top of the ratings. In fact, when it was cancelled it was not due to low ratings, but because CBS had decided to do away with rural programming. While The Beverly Hillbillies was attacked relentlessly by crtics when it was first on the air, it has since been avenged. Many TV historians now consider the series a witty, Capraesque attack on modern American, urban society.

As if the success of The Beverly Hillbillies wasn't enough, Henning had further success with Petticoat Junction. Although not nearly as big a hit as The Beverly Hillbililes, Petticoat Junction had respectable ratings until its star, Bea Benaderet passed on. Contrary to popular belief, Henning did not create Green Acres, although he did serve as the show's executive producer.

Henning also had some success in movies. He wrote the screenplay for one of the best Doris Day/Rock Hudson moives Lover Come Back, for which he received an Oscar nomination. He also co-wrote the screenplay for teh Marlon Brando vehicle Bedtime Story.

I must say that Paul Henning's impact on my life is immeasurable. The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres were among the earliest shows I can remember. In fact, The Beverly Hillbillies still numbers among my favourite shows of all time. Alongside Sherwood Schwarz (creator of Gilligan's Island and It's About Time), Paul Henning was television's master of the absurd. Through the lens of unreconstructed hillbillies in Beverly Hills or socialites in the middle of Hooterville's countryside, Henning attacked the contradictions of modern society, its foibles, and its follies. No one was immune, not bank presidents or movie stars or hippies or even the United States military. In many ways, The Beverly Hillbillies commented on modern society better than the so called "relevant" sitcoms that followed it. While he had a rich and fruitful and long life, I still mourn Paul Henning's passing.

The other major figure from televisonn to pass on was comedian Barney Martin. He died on Monday at age 82 from cancer. He was not the first actor to play Morty Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld's father on Seinfeld, but he played the role the longest and he was the actor most identified with the role. Martin began as a police detective in New York, but in the Fifties found himself writing for such shows as The Steve Allen Show. He eventually moved into acting, appearing on such shows as Car 54, Where Are You? and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In 1968 he got his big break, appearing in Mel Brooks' film The Producers. From there he appeared in Broadway, in such shows as The Fantasticks, South Pacific, and Chicago.

Martin did not abandon television, however, as he continued to make guest appearances and appear as a regular on various series. He guest starred on The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Barney Miller, St. Elsewhere, Murphy Brown, and The Wonder Years. He was a regular cast member on Zorro and Son, Sydney, and Daddy Dearest.

I always did like Barney Martin. He was a very talented and very funny actor. Much of the appeal in watching Seinfeld was his interaction with his parents. Those interactions would not be nearly as funny if an actor other than Barney Martin had played Morty Seinfeld.

Wednesday, 23 March 2005

Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl

Anyone who has read this blog knows that I am fascinated by the age of piracy. Indeed, I suspect most men of my generation wanted to be pirates when they were children. Unfortunately, the truth is that there are very few good pirate movies out there. The Crimson Pirate, The Black Swan, and Disney's version of Treasure Island number among the very, very few truly great pirate movies. It is an unfortunate, but most pirate movies are, well, bad. Fortunately, Disney added another pirate movie to the list of such great movies, Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl.. Based on the popular Disney land attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl goes far beyond the amusement ride to be a truly entertaining and well done pirate movie. Naturally, I had to get it on DVD.

Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl centres on down on his luck pirate Jack Sparrow. His ship taken from his from the villainous Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Much of the plot concerns Sparrow's effort to get his ship back. Johnny Depp, as Jack Sparrow, is definitely the star of this movie. Much of what makes Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl such a great film is Depp's performance as Sparrow. Basing Sparrow on aging Rolling Stone Keith Richards (who always kind of reminded me of a pirate anyway), Depp plays Sparrow as seemingly lacking in concentration and discipline, and yet cunning, witty, and crafty. Sparrow is also arrogant, and there is little reason to say he shouldn't be. When he boasts at being a great pirate, it is hard not to believe him as he outwits one foe after another.

Of course, Depp's great performance as Sparrow would have been for naught if it weren't for a great script. The writers crafted a script that is full of excitement, but also full of depth. The characters are all very well developed. Furthermore, they convincingly reproduce the age of piracy. The script is full of historical pirate jargon and various details that the average pirate movie would conveniently overlook. As my best friend said, it is the most accurate pirate/zombie movie ever made! Gore Verbinski's direction greatly helps as well. In the hands of another director, Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl might seem corny and unbelievable, even with a good script. Verbinski's fine direction greatly helps suspend the viewer's disbelief.

The authenticity of Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl is greatly aided by the film's production values. The ships, buildings, costumes and many other details of the era are faithfully reproduced. The special effects are also excellent. Without being obvious, they make a scenario that might otherwise seem farfetched. Disney invested a lot of money into Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl and it shows.

I have yet to watch the Two Disc Collector's Edition's many extras, but they look very interesting. Included are a commentary with director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp, selected scene commentaries with producer Jerry Bruckheimer or stars Keira Knightly or Jack Davenport, the prerequisite "making of" documentary, behind the scene looks at the ship Interceptor and actor Lee Arenberg's experience on the film, an interactive history of pirates, the episode of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color featuring the opening of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and much, much more.

Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl is best scene on the big screen (which is where I first saw it). As an epic pirate movie with great production values, it can only truly be appreciated in a movie theatre. But the DVD is a good substitute, particularly with its many, many extras. If you haven't seen Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl yet, I urge you by all means to do so. If you're a fan of the pirate genre, interested in the age of piracy, or simply love great movies, you'll love this film.

Tuesday, 22 March 2005

Changes

Well, regular readers may have noticed I've changed the appearance of my blog again. I was somewhat dissatisfied with the Mist template I got from Eris. The print was very small and it scrolled oddly to me. I have returned to my old Rounders/Herbert/Split Pea hybrid, with one modification. I turned the "Profile" box into a box where my counter and links to such things as Technorati and Blogdigger can go. You can reach my profile from there...just click on the little alchemical symbol for Mercury (sort of a visual pun on my nom de guerre). Anyhow, let me know if any of you serious dislike this set up and I can figure out another solution...

Monday, 21 March 2005

Dragons: a Fantasy Made Real

Before I go on, I must post a word of warning. Here there be spoilers. If you have not see Dragons: a Fantasy Made Real yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, read no further.

Anyhow, as a child I have been interested in mythology and folklore since childhood. I have also been interested in pop culture since childhood. Naturally, these two interests meet when it comes to the subject of dragons. Dragons are very much a part of mythology and folklore, myths and tales about them being found among virtually every culture on the planet. Perhaps because of this, dragons have played a large role in pop culture, in movies (Dragonslayer, Dragonheart), games (Dungeons and Dragons, Everquest), books (Dragon Riders of Pern), and even songs (Puff the Magic Dragon). It was then natural that I was anxious to see the special Dragons: a Fantasy Made Real on Animal Planet.

I must say that I was not disappointed. Dragons: a Fantasy Made Real is a pseudo-documentary that treats dragons as if they actually existed. The framing story for this pseudo-documentary is that a group of scientists discover the body of a dragon in a cave in remote Roumania. As the scientists study the body, we are provided with both a history lesson on dragons and scientific explanations of how they may have been able to fly and breathe fire. I must say that everything sounds very plausible. I have never been good at science, but their explanations sounded reasonable to me.

Dragons: a Fanstasy Made Real is made all the more convincing by computer animation of dragons interacting with other dragons, other animals, and their envirnoment. The CGI work is very good, so much so that it hard to believe that the dragons aren't real. Disbelief is suspended even more given the script, which is well written and unfolds as any good nature documentary should, unfolding fact one at a time, from explaining how dragons breathed fire to how they died out. Kudos must go to Patrick Stewart, whose magnicent voice lends even more credence to what many might find implausible otherwise.

As I said, I found their explanations plausible, although I do have a few caveats. According to Dragons: a Fantasy Made Real, dragons breathe fire by releasing the hydrogen contained in their flight bladders, which is then ignited by platinum (which they eat precisely to be able to breathe fire). While this explanation sounds quite reasonable to me, I can see one problem with it. Platinum is very rare. I think it would be more realistic if they had chosen a different means of ignition, such as an eletrical charge (which is seen in nature--look at electric eels and electric rays). I was also disappointed with the lifespan they gave dragons. It seems to me that, unless I am mistaken, dragons only live 40 to 80 years. I have always loved the legends and folktales which have dragons living thousands of years. I have to admit that this probably would not be plausible had dragons actually existed, but would 100 to 200 years be out of the question? Just look at the lifespan of some tortoises...

Another caveat I had is that Dragons: a Fantasy Made Real was just too short. It was only about ninety minutes, with another half hour consisting of a "making of" documentary. I think it could have been a good half hour longer. They could have added a few interviews with "experts," discussing the habits and physiologies of dragons. They could have also recreated some of the legendary battles with dragons (Beowulf, St. George), rewritten as if dragons had actually existed.

Regardless, I did enjoy Dragons: a Fantasy Made Real very much. I think it is quite possibly the best thing that both the Discovery Channel and Animail Planet have ever done. I would recommend anyone interested in dragons to see it at once.

Sunday, 20 March 2005

A Few of My Favourite Things

I have gone on record on this blog as not particularly liking the musical The Sound of Music. That having been said, I do love its score. One of my favourite songs from that score is "A Few of My Favourite Things." Essentially, the song is just that-- a list of a few of Maria von Trapp's favourite things. I thought for today I'd depart from my usual discussion of movies, TV, music, and so on just to list a few of my own favourite things. These are those little things I enjoy that make life worthwile.

The Feel and Touch of Long, Blonde Hair: I think I have made no secret that I prefer natural blondes. And I have to say that it isn't entirely due to the way it looks on women. There is something about the texture of blonde hair that sets apart from the other colours, a special softness to it. It feels so nice pressed against a cheek or brushed against my chest. It is one of those things about blondes that I love most.

Snow at Yuletide: While many people hate snow, I must admit that I have always liked it myself. Oh, I don't want seven inches of the white stuff in a 24 hour period, but a good one to three inches is nice. It is fun to get out and frolic in it, to have snowball fights and make snow angels. And snow is so beautiful, especially as it is falling down. As for myself, there is no better time for snow than Yuletide. It brings to my mind my childhood and being with family, not to mention images from dozens of Yuletide movies, songs, and even lithographs. To me, it isn't quite Yule without snow.

Sunset on a Farm: One of the things I hate about living in a town, even as small as Huntsville is, is the inability to see the horizon, especially at sunset. This is because I grew up on a farm, where come evening I could look west and see the sun slowly sink into the horizon. The sky would be painted with pinks and purples and blues. There are very few things that are quite as beautiful.

Cats Purring: I have alwyas loved cats, ever since I was a child (I must say that I love dogs, too). For me one of the most pleasant and comforting sounds is the purr of a cat. Much of this is because it reminds me of the various cats I have owned over the years and how they would purr when they sat on me and I petted them. Much of it I think is simply because it is a comforting sound, a slow, low, gentle rumble. There are few sounds I like as much.

The Feel of Some Women's Shoulders: Like most men, I do like the feel of members of the opposite sex. But I think one overlooked part of the feminine anatomy are the shoulders. In the right woman, the feel of the shoulders can be electric. With just the right amount of firmness and softness is found in a woman's shoulders, touching them can be most enjoyable. And cuddling can be even more enjoyable. Of course, it does take just the right woman...

Rain in the Summer: If there are any long time readers of this blog, they know that I hate summer in Missouri. Summer here can be summed by two words: hot and muggy. Rain is then a godsend. For there a few things better than a rainy day in the middle of July, especially if it is a nice, heavy, cool rain. Under the right circumstances, I can positively feel like Gene Kelly.

Babies: Call me a softie or overly paternal, but I love babies. They are so cute and cuddly. And they seem positively happy to be in this world...alert, curious about everything. I enjoyed seeing my nephew in his infancy and I enjoy getting to spend time with my best friend's daughter. If only everyone could keep the kind of innocence and wonder at the world that infants have...

The Smell of a New Book: In my time I have been a voracious reader, sometimes reading more than one book at a time. I enjoy both fiction and nonfiction. For that reason it should be no surprise that I love the smell of a new book, the smell of fresh ink. For me it promises adventure and escape from my everyday life or, in the case of nonfiction, knowledge to be learned. I guess it should be no surprise I love the smell of bookstores, too.

Going Home: It is sometimes nice to get away from home, whether it is simply to go see a movie or go shopping, or to make a day trip to some tourist attraction. But as much as I like to get away from home, going home can be even better. Some of my fondest memories as a child were returning home to the farm after we'd went into town to shop. It was so pleasant watching the countryside go by, knowing soon I would be safe at home.

I suppose that it is for now. Tomorrow or later this week (whenver I make my next entry), I'll go back to the usual discussion of movies, television, music, and so on....